Energy Justice During Crises

Fighting for Power During the COVID and Climate Emergencies

The COVID-19 crisis has spotlighted the chronic injustices in our energy system. The Center for Biological Diversity’s Energy Justice Program is committed to building a better energy future by challenging the fossil fuel-powered, corporate utility status quo while advancing clean and renewable energy solutions to address the triple threats of COVID, climate and racism. Take action to help.

A Lack of State Protections Leaves Most of U.S. Vulnerable to Shutoffs


 

 

Millions of families have either had their power shut off, or are at risk, during climate-induced heat waves, wildfires and hurricanes because they can’t afford their electricity. Since the pandemic began, 32 states and Washington, D.C., enacted emergency orders temporarily halting shutoffs, but most have expired. This has created an inequitable patchwork of threats across the country. To ensure no family falls through the cracks, Congress must pass a nationwide moratorium on utility shutoffs.

Key Findings (as of November 19):

  • Only 12 states and Washington, D.C., have orders in place to prevent power shutoffs.
  • By the end of December, just 5 states — California, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Washington — could have binding shutoff moratoriums in place. Households in all other states could have their power shut off for nonpayment.
  • California, New York and Alaska have some of the strongest state orders. New York’s and Alaska’s protect everyone, not just customers of investor-owned utilities. All three last for an extended period of time; waive late fees; and provide payment-assistance programs.
  • Millions of families risk having their power shut off. In North Carolina an estimated 2.5 million people — or 1 in 3 households — are at risk of disconnection due to inability to pay. In Georgia an estimated 50,000 people risk disconnection.
  • Congress has failed to pass a nationwide moratorium, despite widespread public support. A nationwide shutoff moratorium is included in the House COVID relief bill, the HEROES Act, and is supported by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sens. Jeff Merkley and Sherrod Brown.

Read our past issue briefs tracking the shutoff crisis since COVID began:

The above data builds off of the work of Energy and Policy Institute, which has led the charge on tracking states and utilities that have committed to suspending disconnections.

Energy Justice Is Climate Justice Is Racial Justice

Read about how our short-term fight against energy shutoffs feeds into our greater mission to reform the energy sector for climate, energy and social and racial justice. Check out our pieces with the German foundation Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung and in The Hill.

Milestones in the Nationwide Fight Against Utility Shutoffs and Long-term Power Shifts

  • In March the Center spearheaded an emergency letter from 600 groups to state governments, utility regulators and rural cooperatives demanding a stop to power shutoffs. In response to public outcry, 15 senators wrote a letter to Senate leaders demanding nationwide relief.
  • The Movement for Black Lives has demanded the same moratorium on utility shutoffs. Our work continues in solidarity to protect Black lives and achieve energy justice.
  • In May the House passed the HEROES Act, including the nationwide moratorium on shutoffs. Sens. Merkley and Brown introduced sister legislation to enact a nationwide moratorium in the Senate. Read coverage from the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.  
  • In June and July, the NoShutOffs Coalition, partnering with the Poor People’s Campaign and The Real News Network, worked with leading Senate champions and people threatened by utility shutoffs to urge the Senate to pass COVID relief.
  • In August the Center and climate-justice allies filed a petition with the Tennessee Valley Authority demanding a shutoff moratorium, relief funding and public hearings to usher in a clean energy transition. The TVA offered some financial relief shortly thereafter.
  • In September the NoShutOffs Coalition worked with labor unions to elevate the urgent need for people’s relief in the COVID crisis and demand that Congress halt its delays.
Banner photo by Tau Zero/Flickr.